Electric Dreams

An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange
Lucy Gillis, Editor

An Interview with
Beverly D'Urso,
a Lucid Dreamer
Part One

Robert Waggoner

(Electric Dreams)  (Article Index)  (Search for Topic)  (View Article Options)

Waggoner, Robert  (2004 July). DreamSpeak - An Interview with Beverly D'Urso: Part One.
(An Excerpt From The Lucid Dream Exchange, Lucy Gillis, Editor.)  Electric Dreams 11(7).

LDE is pleased to present DreamSpeak: An Interview with a Lucid Dreamer. In this three part series, Robert Waggoner interviews long time lucid dreamer Beverly D'Urso. (Please note, as with all material in LDE, the author retains copyright of his or her material. In this interview, the questions are by Robert Waggoner and the responses are copyright of Beverly D'Urso.)

(c) Beverly D'Urso
Questions by Robert Waggoner

Beverly D'Urso (formerly Beverly Kedzierski, and also Bev Heart) is an incredible lucid dreamer. She served as Stephen LaBerge's main lucid dream research subject in the early years of his research work, and helped provide key insights into lucid dreaming. Interviewed by magazines, national and local television, and other media, Beverly has promoted a greater understanding of lucid dreaming and "lucid living." The LDE is pleased to provide a multi-issue interview of this fascinating lucid dreamer.

Beverly, thanks for doing an interview with the LDE. Since you play a pivotal part in the development of lucid dreaming, tell us how your interest in dreaming began.

I grew up in a small suburb of Chicago, the only child of a lower-middle class family. I was very close to my parents. When I was about five years old, my grandfather came to live with us. It was around this time that I remember having a series of recurring nightmares.

I imagined gruesome witches living in the back of my dark and scary closet. In my dreams, I'd be quietly playing or lying in bed. Without notice, the witches would sneak out and come after me. I'd
scream and run through the house, making it to the back porch and sometimes down the back stairs, but never any further. I'd fall on the cement at the bottom of the stairs, spread eagle on my back, and just as they were about to devour me, I'd wake up. In an icy sweat, breathing fast, I'd be terrified of going to sleep again. For a few weeks, the witches would leave me alone, but, when I least expected it, they'd be back. After years of this same recurring dream, I'd find myself pleading, as I lie on the cement with the witches hovering over me, "Please, spare me tonight. You can have me in tomorrow's night's dream!" At that point, they'd stop their attack and I'd wake up. However, the dream was still very upsetting, and I always hated going to sleep. I would lie inbed and tell myself that the witches only came in my dreams, while I was safe in bed. I tried to get myself to remember this the next time they appeared.

So, recurring nightmares led you to realize that witches only came in dreams. When did you consciously realize this in the dream state and become lucid?

One hot, sticky summer night, when I was seven, I was especially afraid of going to sleep. I was sure the witches would appear in my dreams that night. My mom was sleeping on the living room couch, which she often did when it was so hot. The front door was opened to create a breeze. So, still being awake about two in the morning, I grabbed an old, dark pink, American Indian blanket. I put the blanket on the floor next to the couch to be close to my mom, and I fell asleep.

Soon, I found myself back in my bedroom, unknowingly in a dream, and noticed the closet door creaking open. I knew at once it was the witches, and I began to run for my life. I barely made it through the kitchen. As I raced across the porch and down the stairs, I tripped as usual and immediately those horrifying witches caught up to me. The instant before I started to plead with them, the thought flashed through my mind, "If I ask them to take me in tomorrow night's dream, then this must be a dream!" Instantly, my fear dissolved. I looked the witches straight in the eye and said, "What do you want?" They gave me a disgusting look, but I knew I was safe in a dream, and I continued, "Take me now. Let's get this over with!" I watched with amazement, as they quickly disappeared into the night. I woke up on the floor next to my mom feeling elated. I knew they were gone. I never had the witch nightmare in this form again! I would later have new episodes with the witches in my dreams and discover similar witch scenarios in my waking life.

Did that initial lucid dream realization change your outlook on dreaming? How so?

My dreams were really fun after that night. Remembering the feeling of facing the witches, I learned to recognize when I was asleep and dreaming. Safe in the dream, I would do things I'd never do when awake! Being a very obedient student during the daytime, I would dream of being in class jumping wildly and carefree all over the tops of the school desks. Whatever I desired, was possible. Whatever I thought, would occur. I felt ecstatic. I could face other fears, heal or nurture myself emotionally, resolve conflicts or blocks, have adventures, help others, or just have fun. I could fly, visit places, people, or time periods, and generally "do the impossible!"

I made up ways to wake myself up from dreams, such as staring at bright streetlights in the dream, whenever I wanted to end a dream. Oftentimes, I would lay in bed imagining myself doing backward somersaults and float right into my dream, without ever losing consciousness, as I fell asleep. I figured out how to stay in a dream, if I felt I was waking up, how to change the dream scene, and even how to repeat the same dream!

What other things did you learn to do in your early lucid dreaming?

I learned to fly in my dreams, as well. Usually, I would be lucid. I started out flying like a little bird, having to flap my wings to stay up. This could take much effort. As I grew up, I
discovered that I could fly like superman, soaring effortlessly through the air, arms first. At some point, I must have hit some telephone wires or some other barrier because I fell. I soon realized that because it was my dream, I could fly right through physical objects of any kind. I had fun flying through walls and even deep into the earth. As I matured in my lucid dreaming skills, I could
eliminate flying by merely imagining that where I wanted to go was right behind me. This soon got boring, and I went back to flying for the simple pleasure it brought me. However, lately, I have been
doing what I call "surrender flying.'" I lean back, and I let an invisible force pull me upwards from my heart area. This is a very ecstatic sensation, and it often leads me to places of great peace and power, which remain with me even after I wake up.

My earliest lucid awareness came when I was 10 or 11 years old, and saw dinosaurs in the public library in my dream and announced that this must be a dream. Besides the witches, what else helped you realize that you were dreaming?

Often, in dreams, I would often find myself in front of my childhood home. At times, there were changes to the structure of the house. Other times the house changed in impossible ways. Sometimes, people other than my parents were living there. In the dream, I'd often get confused and scared. However, the more I thought about it while awake, the more I realized that I only saw the house this way when I was in a dream. So, I told myself, the next time I'm in front of my childhood home, I will check for these changes. If I see them, I will know that I am dreaming. From then on, seeing my childhood home was often a clue for me to become lucid in my dreams. Once I became lucid in this manner, I could pursue any other goals that I might have for that night.

What I find amazing is that you were so young. Did your lucid dreaming make you feel unusual, or did you feel special?

My lucid dreaming experiences continued throughout my teenage years. However, I never knew the term "lucid dreaming." I thought that everyone dreamed this way every night. I guess I liked the experiences, so I thought about them at night, in bed, before I went to sleep. I suspected that I was dreaming whenever I would have problems in a dream, for example, when all my teeth would start to fall out, when my contacts would grow or multiply, or when I would find myself on shooting elevators or on bridges that were too steep to drive on.

I often dreamed of my close friend from high school, named Denise, She died in a car accident, when I was nineteen. At first, I'd see her, and we would continue as we would have when she was still
alive. One time, I remembered that she had died. It scared me so much that I woke up. Afterwards, I learned to stay in the dream and talk to her. It took me time to get accustomed to hearing her voice, but I was finally able to ask her questions, and, eventually, listen to her answers. I felt very relieved to connect with her this way. It helped me deal more easily with my father in my dreams after he died, in 1992. By then, I was an expert!

What other types of lucid dream experiences surprised you back then?

I would sometimes end a dream, think I woke up, yet find myself  another dream. These are called "false awakenings." Sometimes, I would 'wake up' ten or twenty times in a row, but usually the time it took me to realize that I was still dreaming shortened exponentially. For example, I would realize I was still dreaming when I left the house for the day in a dream. The next time, in a similar dream, I would recognize I was still dreaming earlier, when I was in the shower, and so on. Finally, I would still be in bed, waking up, when I'd realize I was still in a dream. I have gotten better at recognizing false awakenings through the years.

So how did it happen that you met Stephen LaBerge?

In the late 1970s, I moved to California to finish my graduate work in computer science at Stanford University. Soon after I arrived, I went to see a dream expert to find out if I could learn to dream less often. I thought that waking up too often with dreams was disturbing my sleep. The expert asked me to describe some of my common dreams. When I did, she told me that my dreams were called "lucid dreams." She said lucid dreaming was a valuable skill that people were trying to learn. I was very surprised! I only saw her once, but many years later she showed up at a presentation I was giving on my lucid dreaming experiences. I decided that if I were going to remember so many dreams anyway, at least many of them were lucid!

At the time, I was finishing a master's project with a Stanford Cognitive Psychology professor. I told one of his other students that I was a lucid dreamer. He said that I had to meet his friend Stephen LaBerge, who was doing his dissertation on this exact subject.

After Stephen and I were introduced at an initial meeting, we discovered that we both did similar things in our lucid dreams. He asked me to try some things at home and report back to him. When he asked me to try spinning in a dream and see what happened, I already knew the answer. My somersault dreams were like spinning backwards. I used them to get into new dream scenes. Steven also found that spinning in his dreams created new scenes, as well. He attributed it to something in the inner ear that affected a certain part of the brain.

Obviously you both shared similar interests in lucid awareness. Did that lead to being a research subject?

Stephen invited me to participate in some experiments at the Stanford Sleep Laboratory. I ended up sleeping at the lab and doing experiments about once a month for many years. I also did many experiments for publicity, such as television or magazine specials. I succeeded every time I was in the lab, except one time early on when the technical equipment failed.

Before I came along, Stephen had used himself as the subject to show that one could be definitely in the sleeping state and signal the beginning of a predetermined task from a dream. He wondered how what we dream in our mind affects our physical body. For example, if we dream that we breathe slowly, does our physical breathing slow down? Although we can not, for example, cause our hearts to stop beating in a dream, in general, the activity of our dream bodies can be recognized as happening in our physical bodies, as well.

So how did the research begin with you as the subject?

In the lab, I would signal from a dream, and my signals would be picked up by EEG machines in the lab via electrodes on my body. During this process, my brain waves, and other body functions, were also being monitored. They showed that I was unequivocally in the sleep state, particularly REM sleep, while I was signaling.

The first time Stephen signaled in the lab, he squeezed his arm muscles in Morse code for his initials. When I tried squeezing my arm muscles in an experiment, the signal was not strong enough to register, so we decided on using a new signal. We used eye movements, because eye movement is not as inhibited as other body movements during sleep. I would move my dream eyes back and forth in the dream and the left-right movements, from my physical eyes in bed, connected to electrodes, would appear in the lab on the polygraph machine. I used a double left-right left-right movement to show that I knew I was dreaming. I would use a similar movement to signal that I was about to begin a task in a dream. I eventually decided to use to series of these, or four left- right signals, to say that I was waking up, or about to wake myself up.

What other lucid dream research did you do in those early years?

After I demonstrated that I could have lucid dreams at will, every time I was in the laboratory, I did many other experiments that used the signals. After signaling that I knew I was dreaming and in a dream, I would signal that I was about to begin a predetermined task. One time, we decided I would sing a song, which should have activated a certain area of my brain, which was also being monitored by electrodes. It did. Another time, I did a more mathematical task of counting from one to ten, which should have activated a different area of my brain, just as it would while awake. The experiments showed that the same parts of the brain were activated while dreaming a task, as when doing it while awake.

Did you ever have problems as a lucid dreamer on these research nights?

One time, I was in the lab doing an experiment for "Smithsonian Magazine". My task was to get lucid, and then clap my dream hands to determine if an electrode on my physical ear
would register the dream sound. In the dream, I signaled lucidity, but I couldn't clap my hands. A buoyancy compensatory had unexpectedly expanded around me, and I couldn't get both hands to meet. I had recently learned to scuba dive. A buoyancy compensatory is a device used for floating that expands around the center of the body. The part that the reporters didn't realize was that just as I was going to sleep, Stephen had whispered to me that maybe I could solve the ancient Zen koan of "the sound of one hand clapping." I believe that the reason my subconscious couldn't get my hands to clap was because then I wouldn't be making the sound of "one" hand clapping.

During another lab experiment, my eye movements were being monitored, as usual. In a lucid dream, before I moved my eyes, I explained what I was going to do to the dream character that represented my friend Tim. He said, "Oh, you mean you move your eyes back and forth like this?" He then moved his eyes in this manner. After I signaled and woke up, we noticed that there were two eye signals recorded. Tim's eyes moving in the dream must have affected my physical eyes. This made me wonder if all dream characters are really aspects of the dreamer as well.

It seems that the lucid dream research focused mostly on physiological correlations between dream experience and waking experience, rather than, say, the psychological meaning of dream characters, etc. Is that the case?

We did many more experiments in the lab through the years. I tried estimating time in a dream and while wake. The estimates turned out to be very similar. We believed that time sometimes seems different in dreams because dreams often work the way movies do. When scenes end in movies, often new activity from a later period begins immediately. In other experiments, I followed patterns with my dream eyes. For example, in a dream, I would watch my finger make an infinity sign about two feet wide in front of my face, and we'd compare it to my physical eyes following this same pattern while awake. Oddly enough, I would often do these experiments after working all day on my Ph.D., and performing all evening with my professional belly dance troupe. Talk about working 24 hours a day!

In another ground-breaking experiment, I was in the Stanford Sleep Lab, hooked up to electrodes and vaginal probes. My goal was to have sex in a dream and experience an orgasm. I dreamed that I flew across Stanford campus and saw a group of tourists walking down below. I swooped down and tapped one dream guy, wearing a blue suit, on the shoulder. He responded right there on the walkway. We make love, and I signaled the onset of sex, the orgasm, and when I was about to wake up. We later published this experiment in the "Journal of Psychophysiology" as the first recorded female orgasm in a dream.

Did dream lab work affect your normal lucid dreaming?

During this time period, while at home in my bedroom, I found myself in a dream. Dream scientists asked me to go to sleep in a chair. They wanted to study me. By falling asleep in a dream chair, I actually woke up, and I wrote down the dream. I went back to sleep, and I found myself in the same dream chair with the dream scientists. I asked them what they observed while they saw me sleeping, while I had actually woke up and recorded the dream. They said I was almost paralyzed, except that my eyes were moving quickly back and forth, left and right. Was my waking life a dream to these dream scientists? I began to use the process of falling asleep in a dream as a way to wake up.

So what about your lucid dreams in the lab? Were they affected by the laboratory setting?

In the laboratory, I learned to wait until early morning hours to even try to have a lucid dream. After eight hours of sleep, it would be easier for me to become lucid. We found this to be true
for most people. For example, I would say, "I will do the experiment at 7:30 a.m." I picked this time because it was before the office personnel would come in and begin to make noises.

Picking a time, also made it easier for the media people. Instead of watching my brain waves all night, they could rest, and know exactly when to watch me perform live. I normally woke up after
most REM periods, about every hour and a half. When I would wake up between six and seven a.m., I would then focus on my lucid dreaming task. This process is how we came up with the technique
called "MILD," or Mnemonic induction of lucid dreams.

In my laboratory dreams, I would often find myself in a lab setting, similar to the one in which I was sleeping. In my dreams, I would often joke with the dream characters who represented the lab
technicians or the media people. Sometimes, I would fly over their heads for fun. I would always remember to signal at the point when I knew I was dreaming, and at the beginning and ending of any of my tasks.

Was it odd having news media attention about lucid dreaming?"

Once, I was asked to do a lucid dreaming experiment at the lab for the television show 20/20. While being hooked up to electrodes used to verify my sleeping brain waves, I sat next to Hugh Downs, the host of the show. I had known him from television since I was a child. He wanted to try his luck at becoming lucid in his dreams that night. I became lucid easily that night, finding
myself in a bed that looked like the one in the lab where I had fallen asleep. I got the idea to head towards Oakland, and maybe make it to a scheduled Grateful Dead concert. I got half way there,
when I remembered that I was being filmed for a national television show. One of my goals was to bring Hugh Downs flying. I turned around midair and quickly flew back to the Stanford Sleep Lab. I looked for what I thought would be the wall of Hugh's room. I nudged him on the side and said, "Hugh, wake up! I have come to take you flying." He seemed very sleepy, so I took his hand, and I
gently pulled him out of bed. We got to the coliseum just as the Grateful Dead were playing on stage. Because we were like ghosts, it was easy to merely float right over the band, in fact, directly over the lead guitar player, Jerry Garcia's, head. We had the best location in the place, and the music sounded especially clear and vibrant. The next morning, I asked Hugh if he remembered any dreams. Unfortunately, he didn't, but he seemed very pleased when I told him mine. The reporters interviewed me, but as far as I know the segment was never shown.

Sexual desires seem fairly common in my lucid dreams and in most other lucid dreamers'. What this the case in your experience as well?

In my lucid dreams, I have had sex with dream characters who represent men, women, old people, young people, strangers, relatives, as well as people of various races and classes. I have been the woman, the man, half woman/half man, both split from waist, and with both a penis and a vagina. I have been a man with a man, a woman with a woman, an old man with young girls, with groups and alone. I have made love physically with myself in all combinations. I can barely think of some sexual situation that I have not experienced. These dreams are all very enjoyable and everyone is always totally accepting.

I would sometimes give myself challenges while not in the lab, as well. In one very powerful lucid dream, I felt very sure of myself and decided to have sex with the next dream person who came down the street. I did so, right in the middle of the road, with no inhibitions. I gave myself a suggestion to remain lucid afterwards and it worked. However, I now found myself alone, in front of a campfire. I took this as another challenge and stepped right into the center of the roaring fire. I was having fun and decided to try eating the flames. Interestingly enough, they tasted salty. Next, I appeared with nothing physical around me, so I decided that I would fly up and merge with the sun. I sped upwards like superman, accelerating rapidly until, about half way there, I heard a great sound. It was very intense, and yet blissful. I felt extremely lucid for the next several days in both my waking and sleeping states.

Any final thoughts about experiments or experiences in the lab with Stephen LaBerge?

During one lucid dreaming experiment at the lab, Stephen LaBerge asked me to try healing my stiff neck in a dream by rubbing my hands and directing the energy to my neck. I tried this in a dream, and I found sparks coming from my hands. The sparks set my hair on fire, and I spend the dream trying to put the fire out. Even I wasn't always completely lucid!

In another lab experiment for a television special, I had to sing the song, "Row, row, row your boat....life is but a dream." The week that the show was to air, they used a clip of me singing this song with electrodes all over my face, wearing my blue robe, for a commercial. It was shown several times a day that week. A few times, when I turned on the television, the commercial was playing and I saw myself saying, "Life is but a dream!" It was a very strange experience indeed! I decided it must be some kind of message from the universe, and I better pay attention. I was formulating the ideas that would eventually become what I now call, "lucid living!"

Beverly, because you have so many great lucid dream experiences, we plan to continue this interview for the next LDE - and maybe even the one after that! Would you care to leave us with one of your favorite lucid dreams from this period?

This next dream serves as a good description of how our thoughts can create reality. I was in a lucid dream and I met a lovely fairy teacher who told me that she would give me the gift of
seeing my thoughts manifest instantly in front of me. I found myself driving on a road around a large lake. I thought how nice it would be to be in a boat on the water. Instantly, I was sitting in a boat looking up at the road I had just been on. I was amazed. I must have imagined being in town next. In front of me on a dusty road, I saw a mysterious man walking towards me. He put his hand in his pocket. I thought, "What if he pulls a knife on me?" Sure enough, I noticed the blade. I was terrified, but just as quickly I tried to picture him merely scratching his leg. I was relieved when he did. Still, I was afraid that I would think more negative houghts, and I wanted this all to stop. Yet, I didn't know how to do so. Finally, I decided to think of my bedroom and myself asleep. Sure enough, I woke up, and I felt that I had learned a great deal about how our mental states can affect our experiences.

Go to Part 2 of this interview.

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